By Zach Giroux for The Island Eye News
The lease for a long-standing tenant at the Isle of Palms Marina will expire at the end of September, and the ultimate fate of the site and the company remained unclear after an Aug. 25 meeting of the IOP City Council.
The future of Tidal Wave Water Sports on the island has been doubt for more than year. Last year, the Council voted 6-3 not to renew or renegotiate Tidal Wave’s existing lease. Currently, the company pays the city $18,000 annually and 20% of its gross profit above $300,000. However, for the last 10 years, the lease has not yielded more than approximately $22,400 annually to the city, Council Member Randy Bell pointed out during the April 2019 meeting. That, Bell said, was equivalent to $53 per day.
The Council decided to reject the lease renewal for Tidal Wave, which has been at the Marina since 1996, to allow for the city to gauge the fair market value of the site’s dock by asking for bids from other companies. Tidal Wave still has the option to submit a competitive bid if the Council decides to pursue a commercial option when the lease expires.
At the Aug. 25 meeting, the Council addressed the future use of the site, looking at options including a commercial dock with 10 parking spaces or a public dock with green space and residential parking.
After 30 minutes of public comments – half of which championed Tidal Wave to remain at the site and the other half requesting a change that would benefit public recreation – neither outcome was accomplished.
Tidal Wave co-owner Michael Fiem noted that making the site a resident-only dock would reduce access to the water. He also said the dock is in a “DHEC no harvest area” for shellfish and is near a freshwater outfall, which makes saltwater fishing very poor nearby.
Fiem said that when Tidal Wave opened in 1994, offering jetskiing, wakeboarding and parasailing, one of the original owners was the dockmaster for the IOP Marina.
“Does it have to be only commercial or residential? Why can’t it be both?” Fiem asked. “Tidal Wave has never turned away a kayaker or paddleboarder who asked to launch.”
On the topic of green space, Fiem said that Tidal Wave is willing to invest up to $50,000 to revitalize the area along the bulkhead in front of the dock. Tidal Wave has been working with an engineer on conceptual drawings of a boardwalk and grass area with palm trees to shade benches along the waterfront.
Furthermore, Fiem said that Tidal Wave isn’t opposed to the city asking for RFPs but that it would have been nice to start it and complete the process before his lease expired. His biggest concern is equipment loans during the undefined period of inactivity after the lease ends.
City Administrator Desiree Fragoso noted that an average RFP process takes 60 days and needs to be approved by an ordinance, which would take an additional two months of the Council’s consideration. Fragoso said the administrative work would be achievable before next spring.
Mayor Jimmy Carroll made a motion for a special nonbinding referendum during the general election in November, with two options on the ballot for registered island voters: A commercial dock with 10 parking spaces or a public dock with green space.
Bell said Carroll’s proposal was “the worst idea I’ve heard since I’ve been on Council.” He said cyberbullying and individual accounts of intimidation and harassment from “select morons on social media” were driving the narrative regarding Tidal Wave’s lease.
Bell cited the Marina Forum in January, where the island’s consensus was in favor of public space for the future of the site. Additionally, Bell opined that a referendum would draw concern regarding mail-in ballots and data validity.
Council Member Ryan Buckhannon proposed a dual purpose for the site that would allow both commercial and public use, and Council Member Susan Hill Smith seconded his motion. An amendment was presented by Council Member Kevin Popson and seconded by Buckhannon to allow Tidal Wave to stay on until the RFP process is completed. After receiving more than 20 minutes of legal advice in executive session, this motion was withdrawn.
Since a vote for a commercial dock and public space with 10 parking spots narrowly failed, 5-4, Tidal Wave apparently will be forced to vacate the site when its lease expires Sept. 30. Council Member Jimmy Ward joined Smith, Popson and Buckhannon voting for the measure, while the majority included Bell, Carrol and Council Members Rusty Streetman, Philip Pounds and John Moye.